Discovered by scientists in 1963, valproate has become one of the most highly prescribed treatments for epilepsy.
However, the medicine, which is marketed under a variety of brand names including Depakote, has since been found to cause a number of serious side effects.
Depakote side effects include birth defects such as cleft palate and spina bifida, liver damage, hair loss and tremor.
In fact, a study conducted on more than 1,000 single births over a seven-year period at Boston-area hospitals found that more than 20 percent of women who took anticonvulsant drugs such as Depakote had some kind of major birth defect.
In addition to treating epilepsy, Depakote is also prescribed to treat bipolar disorder. And last year, its maker, Abbott Laboratories, agreed to pay $1.6 billion to settle claims that it promoted the drug for off-label uses such as bipolar mania and migraines.
The Food and Drug Administration recently demanded that Abbott turn over thousands of copies of literature regarding Depakote and birth defects as a number of these lawsuits are expected to go forward later this year.